In Brief

Converting Air Pollution into Inks and Pigments for Artists

Ink captured by Graviky Labs (all images courtesy Graviky Labs)
Ink captured by Graviky Labs (all images courtesy Graviky Labs)

To combat growing levels of air pollution worldwide, a technology and design team is converting airborne pollutants into consumer safe inks and paints. Air Ink by Graviky Labs, an India-based research company, is a line of products that includes pens, spray paint, and oil-based paints. The pigments contained in each were once toxic, arriving straight from the exhaust pipes of cars, but the researchers say the artistic tools are now completely safe for use.

IMG_20160616_154216_Nikhil Kaushik
A mural in Hong Kong painted with Air Ink (click to enlarge)

Instrumental to the conversion is Graviky Lab’s own contraption, Kaalink, a device that, once placed on exhaust pipes, captures pollutants without comprising a vehicle’s performance. The soot then goes through a number of processes that remove carcinogens to yield purified, carbon-based pigments, which then undergo another chemical process to create the final inks and paints.

“The soot is blended with oils to create oil-based paint, the spray paint is packaged with compressed gas and canned — to a user, the end results are materials that function much like any other paint they use,” Graviky Labs co-founder Anirudh Sharma told CNN, adding that he may one day figure out how to use purified carbon soot to create sculptures.

The researchers estimate that every 45 minutes worth of car emissions captured by their device produces some 30 milliliters of ink — enough to fill one pen. Besides cars and trucks, Kaalink can even fit over the polluting mouths of boats, chimneys, and cranes.

Sharma, who was previously a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, first presented Kaalink in 2013 at the annual INK conference in India, which showcases innovative projects and inventions. Since then, he and his colleagues have been busy experimenting, from considering the impact of different climate conditions and different types of pipes to figuring out how to optimize the resulting product to create a variety of inks. Most recently, Graviky Lab partnered with Tiger Beer to test out Air Ink in the real world on a large scale, giving the paint to seven street artists to create murals in Hong Kong — where heavy traffic has resulted in threatening levels of air pollution.

Air Ink is not the only project attempting to make good on Buckminster Fuller’s famous comment that: “Pollution is merely a resource that isn’t being used properly.” Last year, Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier interviewed an artist who extracted pollutants from water to create pigments; and this month, a tower deemed the “largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world” will begin a tour of China, where it will filter pollution from the air and create jewelry from the collected waste.

Rendering of Kaalink
Kaalink on a car
Kaalink on a car (click to enlarge)
Air Ink samples from various vehicular sources
Particle samples from various vehicular sources
Painting with Air Ink
Painting with Air Ink
IMG_20160617_144314_Nikhil Kaushik
A mural in Hong Kong painted with Air Ink (click to enlarge)
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